20 March, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and international cooperation

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Malaysia Airlines jet that went missing two weeks ago. I guess we all have. The story has a high human interest factor. Not only what on earth can have happened to the flight (my husband and I have spent a good deal of time working through the possible options -- mechanical fault, explosion, hijack, pilot suicide; and one can imagine the Malaysian authorities doing exactly the same thing), but also the empathy that one feels with those left behind. How terribly difficult it must be to plan, to do anything, when you simply don’t know what has happened to your loved ones. As unpalatable as it may be, knowing with certainty that someone has died enables one to grieve, deal with the situation as best one can and, one hopes, eventually move forwards into the future. Not knowing what has happened, however, must make it impossible to know how to act. One must always be holding on to the hope that those people are still alive and will, perhaps, turn up again one day, however vanishingly small that possibility is in reality.

But the thing that strikes me most strongly in all of this is the amount of multi-national effort that is being put into locating a plane that was carrying 227 people. Not that I would want this to be any different (one imagines oneself in the shoes of the relatives of the missing here), but it is amazing that so many disparate countries (Malaysia, the US, Australia, China, Norway...) are cooperating so willingly on this task. This contrasts sharply with the current situation in the Ukraine, for example, which sits so dangerously on a knife edge and which, if the situation tips over into all-out war, has the potential for death and destruction on a massively greater scale. Yet there seems to be little likelihood of cooperation or reconciliation here, despite the stakes being so much higher.

What is it, then, that promotes international cooperation in the Malaysia Airlines case? Is it the human angle -- the fact that we can all empathise with the personal tragedy of the situation? But why, then, aren't we able to do this so easily in cases of war or famine? Perhaps suffering on a small scale is simply something that we can comprehend better than the ‘impersonality’ of mass suffering or mass loss of life. Or perhaps it’s just that, in the Malaysia Airlines example, those countries that are cooperating are able to put aside their personal agendas and their differences because these things have no bearing on the specific case in hand.

There doesn't seem to be a definitive answer. But the question is a valid one, and the comparison an interesting one to draw.

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